Faithful Foreigners


OUR environment poses considerable challenges to our well-being. While many take this to mean physical wellness, often completely ignored is the impact that environmental influences pose to one’s spiritual health. We are constantly under pressure to conform. Society, family, friends, co-workers, businesses, governments — they all demand that we follow a certain pattern.

So we then eventually give in. In order to be accepted within one’s social circle, people undergo a change. They will let go of that which the environment does not accept and embrace the norms palatable within their circle. People will happily change their beliefs, even their names in the face of hostilities.

Immigration is a major life decision. It is not merely a logistical move to a foreign land, but by it one is also transported to a new set of ideas, beliefs and customs. Foreign migrants are under pressure to assimilate with the host culture. From certain quarters fingers are pointed at the ‘foreign’ faith that has come with the migrant. Social influence poses a considerable challenge to the faith of foreign migrants. It is a challenge that is often overlooked and underestimated.

Participation in interfaith conversations will help remove misconceptions.

As economic migrants people are motivated by the lure of a better standard of living and a comfortable lifestyle. It is the dream of greener pastures in a foreign land that drives them to move house rather than any missionary zeal. As recent arrivals, little do they realise that they have ventured into a territory in which the majority may not be sympathetic towards their foreign culture.

Religious groups that are seeking converts actively target families of foreign migrants. Evangelical preachers, religious cults and new religious movements would knock on people’s doors in migrant conurbations, introduce the household to their doctrines and raise critical questions about the faith that the family has brought with it to the country. Is the family prepared for this? There is also the role of non-believing friends and peers on young impressionable minds. Critical attitudes to the Islamic faith at school and from friends are instrumental in shaping the personality of children.

For Muslims, this issue is increasingly becoming important given the recent rise in hostilities against Islam. As a Muslim family choosing to migrate to a non-Muslim environment it is crucial to be aware of the common arguments against Islam that are posed by those critical to the faith and their responses. Also important is to know the counter-narrative to extremists that often target the young and vulnerable from migrant groups. In most cases, people are unprepared.

When their children face such interrogation, they would not have any choice but to surrender to the one-sided narrative. Subjecting children to an environment where there is constant criticism and hostility to one’s faith is detrimental to their spiritual well-being.

With fragmented communities, the problem is exacerbated. For the Muslim young, university life away from familiar surroundings can also lead them to drift from the faith taught and practised at home and expose them to unsympathetic ideas. Challenges to one’s faith and belief are manifold when living as a foreign immigrant.

Religious duties like the ability to recite the Quran properly, to perform the five daily prayers, to observe fasts during the month of Ramazan, to be able to calculate zakat applicable on one’s assets and to have knowledge of the dietary prohibitions is a basic requirement for every Muslim. No doubt that migrants are capable of this much. But given the hostile environment in which they are now raising their future generations, it is expedient that they also realise that more needs to be done. The Quranic injunction: “O ye who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is Men and Stones. …” (66:6) necessitates that Muslims take appropriate steps to raise their children on revealed guidelines, and caution them against that which is detrimental to their moral well-being.

Thus Muslims living as minorities in non-Muslim lands have a duty to educate the family and prepare it for the times to come. They should always remain a part of their local Muslim community and not distance themselves from it. Their religious learning, regular attendance at the local mosque and interaction with credible Islamic scholars will enable them to negotiate away from environmental pressures. Participation in interfaith conversations and outreach to non-Muslim friends will help remove misconceptions and break down barriers.

Muslim migrants need not jettison their faith or ethnicity to blend in with the wider environment. They should play a full part in society whilst retaining their values. Through their conduct they are to demonstrate the peaceful coexistence enjoined by their faith and make a positive contribution to society.

Published in DAWN, February 23, 2018


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Is Apostasy a Cognizable Offense in the Qur’an?


Apostasy is the formal disaffiliation, or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person. One who commits apostasy is an apostate. The Qur’an mentions that deserting the true religion of God is a sin, but it does not stipulate a worldly punishment for this act. There is no imperative given to believers to punish those who are guilty of apostasy and it is for God to judge the individual. The Qur’an goes much further when we study it, and not only is there no imperative issued to believers to take punitive action against apostates, but we also find clear-cut evidence that capital punishment is not possible for this sin. Following is proof to this effect:

(1) Qur’an shows that a person cannot be killed because of apostasy because Allah has given the individual an opportunity to repent and become a believer again.

إِنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ثُمَّ كَفَرُوا۟ ثُمَّ ءَامَنُوا۟ ثُمَّ كَفَرُوا۟ ثُمَّ ٱزْدَادُوا۟ كُفْرًا لَّمْ يَكُنِ ٱللَّهُ لِيَغْفِرَ لَهُمْ وَلَا لِيَهْدِيَهُمْ سَبِيلًۢا

“Surely (as for) those WHO BELIEVE THEN DISBELIEVE, AGAIN BELIEVE AND AGAIN DISBELIEVE, then increase in disbelief, Allah will not forgive them nor guide them in the (right) path.” 4.137

If for apostasy capital punishment were prescribed, then the above verse would not have mentioned the states of believing in Islam, then leaving it, then AGAIN believing in it, as after disbelieving in the first instance, the culprit would have incurred the punishment, but as we see there is room for repentance, it is clear in showing that in Islam, apostates are not to be killed.

(2) In 3:86-89 apostates are reminded that if they return to the true religion they will be forgiven. If capital punishment were invoked, then how will the apostates be able to return to the true religion and gain forgiveness for their past actions?

كَيْفَ يَهْدِى ٱللَّهُ قَوْمًا كَفَرُوا۟ بَعْدَ إِيمَٰنِهِمْ وَشَهِدُوٓا۟ أَنَّ ٱلرَّسُولَ حَقٌّ وَجَآءَهُمُ ٱلْبَيِّنَٰتُ ۚ وَٱللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِى ٱلْقَوْمَ ٱلظَّٰلِمِينَ

“How will God guide a people who disbelieved after having believed, and had witnessed that the Messenger is true, and the clear proofs had come to them? God does not guide the unjust people.”3:86

أُو۟لَٰٓئِكَ جَزَآؤُهُمْ أَنَّ عَلَيْهِمْ لَعْنَةَ ٱللَّهِ وَٱلْمَلَٰٓئِكَةِ وَٱلنَّاسِ أَجْمَعِينَ

“Those-their penalty is that upon them falls the curse of God, and of the angels, and of all mankind.” 3:87

خَٰلِدِينَ فِيهَا لَا يُخَفَّفُ عَنْهُمُ ٱلْعَذَابُ وَلَا هُمْ يُنظَرُونَ

“Remaining in it eternally, without their punishment being eased from them, and without being reprieved.” 3:88

إِلَّا ٱلَّذِينَ تَابُوا۟ مِنۢ بَعْدِ ذَٰلِكَ وَأَصْلَحُوا۟ فَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

“Except those who repent afterwards, and reform; for God is Forgiving and Merciful.” 3:89

“Except those WHO REPENT AFTER THAT AND AMEND, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” 3.89

This is clear evidence that they are not to be condemned to death, as otherwise it is meaningless to say that their repentance will be accepted and have a chance to amend.

(3) The Prophet (p) of Islam was ordered not to compel people to join the religion.

The Prophet (p) of Islam is commanded in numerous verses that he is not to use force to win converts:

لَوْ شَآءَ رَبُّكَ لَءَامَنَ مَن فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ كُلُّهُمْ جَمِيعًا ۚ أَفَأَنتَ تُكْرِهُ ٱلنَّاسَ حَتَّىٰ يَكُونُوا۟ مُؤْمِنِينَ

“And if your Sustainer had pleased, surely all those who are in the earth would have believed, all of them; WILL YOU (O MUHAMMED) THEN FORCE MEN TILL THEY BECOME BELIEVERS?” 10.99

As the Prophet (p) followed and practised the Qur’an all his life, he never did such a thing. Forcing people to remain in one’s own belief system (religious or non religious) and killing of apostates means compelling people to be believers.

(4) Threatening to kill apostates is a trait of unbelievers, and not believers, hence law of rejectors of Islam does not become an Islamic law.

Qur’an shows that killing those who desert your beliefs is the behaviour of those who reject God, and not of Muslims and true believers in God. About a tyrant, it is said:

قَالَ ءَامَنتُمْ لَهُۥ قَبْلَ أَنْ ءَاذَنَ لَكُمْ ۖ إِنَّهُۥ لَكَبِيرُكُمُ ٱلَّذِى عَلَّمَكُمُ ٱلسِّحْرَ فَلَسَوْفَ تَعْلَمُونَ ۚ لَأُقَطِّعَنَّ أَيْدِيَكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُم مِّنْ خِلَٰفٍ وَلَأُصَلِّبَنَّكُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ

“Said he: You believe in him BEFORE I GIVE YOU PERMISSION; most surely he is the chief of you who taught you the magic, so you shall know: CERTAINLY I WILL CUT OFF YOUR HANDS AND YOUR FEET ON OPPOSITE SIDES, AND CERTAINLY I WILL CRUCIFY YOU ALL.” 26.49

As it is a behaviour trait of rejectors of Islam, it is inconceivable to think that death for apostates will be an Islamic law itself.

Conclusion

Thus when we study the Qur’an it becomes clear that every individual is free to believe or disbelieve as per his wish and believers are not under any obligation by any Quranic injunction to compel anyone to remain within Islam. Islam is to be accepted by one’s free will and not through coercion.

Further Reading

Islam and Religious Freedom

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Do children go to heaven upon death?


Accountability of children, the weak and the handicapped

Q- A vast majority of people have not read the Qur’an. Even among Muslims, its true knowledge is very rare to find. There are children who do not know who Allah is, or what Islam means. There are many individuals who suffer from mental illness or are born disabled and are not able to follow the Qur’an. Can we imply that such people will not be saved because they have not read Allah’s Book, and are unaware of its teachings?

A- The Quran teaches us that to qualify for punishment, the message of God has to reach that person first. In the conversations that are mentioned in the Quran about the time period or dimension of the hereafter or life after death, it is stated that the unbelievers, who will be in torment, will be questioned:

“The Fire will burn their faces and they will therein grin with their lips displaced. (Allah will ask) Were not My Signs rehearsed to you and ye did but treat them as falsehood?” (23:104-105)

The question, “Were not My Signs rehearsed to you and ye did but treat them as falsehood?” clearly informs us that to qualify for punishment the message of the Qur’an has to reach an individual first, after which it is consciously rejected by him. In case the message has not reached people, or their mental ability is not such that they can comprehend it then they are not held accountable.

Children and those who are disabled will be forgiven by God
The following verses have brought two groups in comparison. One is that which rejected God’s message in a conscious state of mind, the other consists of those who are in such a state that they could not find the means to study God’s guidance or were physically handicapped to ascertain its meaning, we are told:

“When the Angels take the souls of those who die in oppression against their souls they say: “In what (plight) Were ye?” They reply: “Weak and oppressed Were we in the earth.” They say: “Was not the earth of God spacious enough for you to move yourselves away (From evil)?” Such men will find their abode in Hell – What an evil refuge!

Except those who are (really) weak and oppressed – men women and children – who have no means in their power nor (a guide-post) to their way. For these there is hope that God will forgive: For God doth blot out (sins) and forgive again and again.” (4:97-99)

From above we can infer that children who die before the age of consent or those individuals who do not have the ability to receive guidance are not held accountable for their actions. Accountability is for those individuals who while having the means to attain guidance remained ignorant or went against the guidance after gaining knowledge.

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Mu’min and Muslim


Every Mumin is a Muslim but every Muslim is not necessarily a Mumin. By the term Mumin a person who has firm inner belief is meant and by the term Muslim we mean a submitter, i.e. someone who resigns His will to Allah, who agrees that there is Allah and He has given guidance to mankind. However he may not be practising those rules in his life, e.g. he is drinking alcohol, dating, earning by illegitimate means etc, but verbally says and knows all this is wrong. He merely surrenders. This is the first stage. But when a person becomes a Mumin or a convinced believer, then this is the stage where he moves from initial submission. He also starts acting on the rules and practices the laws of Allah in his life. He is a Muslim i.e. a submitter as well as a Mumin i.e. convinced believer and an actor. A Muslim who does not act on the rules is however on the first stage, and Imaan has not entered his heart. This will happen when he starts practising the rules.

This point is made evident by the Qur’an,

The bedouins say, “We have believed.” Say, “You have not [yet] believed; but say [instead], ‘We have submitted,’ for faith has not yet entered your hearts. And if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not deprive you from your deeds of anything. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” 49:14

In this verse the distinction between state of Muslim and state of Mu’min is made clear. Merely saying “We have believed.” is not enough to qualify as a believer but simply qualifies one as a Submitter (Muslim). It is when one starts acting on the rules, i.e. shows obedience to Allah and His messenger that they qualify as a Mumin. All commandments in the Quran are addressed to Al Ladhina Amanoo i.e. ‘those who have believed’, because it is in this state that one actually puts in practice the rules they resign to.

This can be demonstrated through a worldly example. When a personal shows a willingness to the aims and objectives of an institution has made an application to join it, he is a submitter or a Muslim to that institution. At this point has has submitted an application to join which indicates his willingness, and agreement. Once he joins, and gets trained and practices the knowledge, he is a firm and convinced believer in the rules and skills that the institution imparts on him. His practice of the rules is proof oh his belief or imaan on the institutional rules. Thus he is now progressed to another level as a Mumin i.e. a firmly convinced believer of that institution, while also retaining his initial status as an applicant who had shown his willingness to submit to the institution. On the other hand a person who has made an application, got admission, but never learned or practices what was taught in the institute, can he be equal to the latter category? Unless he is obedient to the curriculum he is not qualified to be a believer. His increase in knowledge and practise will be proof of his conviction.

That is why a believer (Mumin) is always also a submitter (Muslim), but a submitter is not necessarily always a believer, as he may not have progressed forward as showed in Qur’an 49:13.

Islam (Submission) and Iman (inner belief) are two different things. The fact that people have submitted to the commands of Allah does not mean they have belief in Allah in their hearts. Their submission can be for a variety of reasons, could be out of fear, to make friends or allies, to be acceptable in society or to marry a girl. All this is outwardly. Imaan – however is entirely different and is concerned with the qalb (heart) of a person and is between man and God.

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